Serbians could only forget the aggression unleashed by the U.S.-led NATO in 1999 if their country ceases to exist, President Aleksandar Vucic warned on Friday. He was marking the 24th anniversary of the military bloc’s bombing campaign of the then Yugoslavia.
Media reports said:
Vucic added that the U.S. and its allies have yet to answer for their attacks, which were conducted in violation of international law.
His speech comes at a time when Belgrade is being pressured by Western countries over its ties with Russia.
Speaking at a ceremony in the northern city of Sombor to commemorate the victims of the deadly airstrikes that claimed thousands of Serbian lives, Vucic said that NATO’s aggression marked the moment when “modern international law finally died.”
“24 years have passed. You tore away parts of our territory. You killed 79 children, 2500 people and not only civilians, but also soldiers and police,” the Serbian president asserted. “Who are you to kill our soldiers and police and who are on their territory and in their country? Where did you get the right to kill our soldiers and our police? Who gave you that right?”
Vucic recalled that the U.S.-led military bloc attacked a free and sovereign country while justifying the move by saying it had to stop “genocide.”
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s aggression against Yugoslavia 24 years ago marked the death of international law, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Friday at a commemoration event in the city of Sombor, where the first bomb fell in 1999.
“24 years ago, the modern international law finally died, and you should know that it is not an unimportant bureaucratic wording — but much more than that,” Vucic said.
“Nothing worse could happen in the world than what was done here, to a small country, which was guilty only of seeking to make its own decisions, and to be free. As such it didn’t appeal to those powers which destroyed the old international order in 1989/90 and created a new one in which only they have the final say in everything,” Vucic said.
He was addressing a large crowd of people who gathered at the St. George Square in Sombor, waving Serbian flags and lighting candles for the victims of the bombings, which most of them see as an act of injustice.
Bombings of Yugoslavia started on March 24, 1999, without the previous authorization of the United Nations (UN) Security Council.
During the 78-day bombings of both civilian and military targets, Serbia lost thousands of policemen, soldiers and civilians, and suffered immense material damage to its transport and energy infrastructure.
Among NATO’s targets were houses and apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, and even kindergartens, while the weapons deployed included missiles containing depleted uranium and cluster bombs.
The Chinese embassy, where three journalists lost their lives, and the building of the Serbian national broadcaster RTS, were also among the targets.
Vucic also commented on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, calling Western support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine “hypocritical and two-faced” — because it is based on the UN Charter, which he believes was broken in 1999.
Belgrade was engaged in a civil war with ethnic Albanian separatists at the time, following other post-Yugoslavia conflicts in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia.
He also recalled that NATO failed to obtain permission from the UN Security Council to start the military intervention, but went ahead with it anyway.
According to the Serbian leader, NATO “carried out the aggression” for two reasons. Firstly, it wanted to show that “we are the strongest and we can do everything,” and secondly, “to take Kosovo and Metohija” away from Serbia, he said.
Vucic went on to say that Serbia’s duty is “to try to forgive,” but that it can forget everything only if it ceases to exist.
A b92 report — Serbia marks 24 years since the beginning of NATO aggression, March 24, 2023, https://www.b92.net/eng/news/society.php?yyyy=2023&mm=03&dd=24&nav_id=115651 — said:
The order for the attack was issued by Javier Solana, the Secretary General of NATO at the time, to the then commander of the allied forces, U.S. General Wesley Clark, although there was no UN Security Council approval. It was an obvious precedent.
It is estimated that in July 1998, the so-called KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) controlled approximately 40 percent of Kosovo and Metohija. At that time, there were more than 20,000 people in its composition. During this period, they control rural areas and obstruct roads. Attacks on the police, who were trying to guard traffic routes, important points, facilities and urban environments, happened on a daily basis. The Yugoslav Army was forced to help the police during the unblocking of Dečani in June 1998, and Orahovac in July 1998. By October, the police managed to liberate a number of villages in the central part of the province.
At the same time, there was a harsh campaign against Serbia in the Western media. There was, so to speak, a flood of untrue information about the events in Kosovo and Metohija. In the book “Modern Warfare”, Wesley Clark later revealed that the planning of the NATO aggression against the FRY “was well underway in mid-June 1998” and that everything was ready a few months later.
The Council of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) on October 12, 1998, made a decision on the adoption of the order for the activation of forces. An agreement between Slobodan Milošević and Richard Holbrooke followed the next day. It was planned to reduce the number of soldiers of the Yugoslav Army in the territory of Kosovo and Metohija to the number from the beginning of 1998. It has been agreed that OSCE observers will monitor the situation, that is, the peace process in Kosovo and Metohija. The agreement also stipulated that no person would be prosecuted in state courts for crimes related to the conflict in Kosovo, except for crimes against humanity and international law.
After the meeting of the NATO Council on January 30, 1999, it was officially announced that NATO was ready to launch strikes against the FRY. The NATO aggression was preceded by insincere offers from the international community, as well as the deployment of additional NATO troops in Albania and Macedonia. Negotiations in Rambouillet were conducted from February 6 to March 19.
The FRY delegation did not sign the final text offered. This was followed by another arrival of Richard Holbrooke in Belgrade on March 22 for negotiations with Slobodan Milošević. The media reported that this last peace attempt also failed.
The level of demands sent to official Belgrade, which was confirmed even by Madeleine Albright, was raised all the time during the so-called negotiations, so that Serbia would be blamed. As interpreted by Vladislav Jovanović, announcements of the bombing had existed for ten years, since the time when Bob Dole promised independence in Pristina. Bill Clinton, the then president of the USA, told the delegation of American Serbs that he would not sign what was offered to Milosevic. A similar view was later expressed by Henry Kissinger.
FRY was attacked as the alleged culprit for the humanitarian disaster in Kosovo and Metohija. The immediate cause, actually the justification, were the events in Račak on January 15. And then the failure of the alleged negotiations conducted in Rambouillet and Paris. In reality, it was support for the terrorist organization of the Kosmet Albanians, the so-called KLA, which by then had already committed numerous crimes.
After the Serbian Parliament confirmed that it does not accept the decision on foreign troops on its territory and proposed that United Nations forces monitor the peace settlement in Kosovo and Metohija, NATO began airstrikes.
According to the first announcement of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army, on March 24 at around 8:45 p.m., more than twenty objects were targeted in the first raid. The first missiles fell on the barracks in Prokuplje at 19:53. This was followed by an attack on Priština, Kuršumlija, and Batajnica.
On the same evening, U.S. President Bill Clinton announced the need to “demonstrate NATO’s seriousness in opposing repression”, stressing the need to “intimidate Serbia and Yugoslavia” and “destroy Serbia’s military capacities”, so that, as he said, “actions against the Kosmet Albanians would not be taken”. That same evening, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the NATO aggression was undertaken because “the people of Kosovo” asked for it. In order to further clarify that, by “the people of Kosovo” he means Kosmet Albanians.
Nineteen NATO countries began bombing from ships in the Adriatic, as well as from four air bases in Italy. First of all, the anti-aircraft defense and other facilities of the Yugoslav Army were targeted.
According to the data of the Ministry of Defense of Serbia, 2,500 civilians were killed during the NATO air aggression, among them 89 children and 1,031 members of the Army and police. According to the same source, around 6,000 civilians were wounded, of which 2,700 were children, as well as 5,173 soldiers and policemen, and 25 people were missing.
According to Serbian experts, 18,168 air takeoffs were recorded until June 10. According to NATO sources, there were 38,004 air surges, of which 10,484 were fire actions, while the rest were reconnaissance, anti-aircraft, and tankers. At first, around 70 fighter planes took part in the operations daily, and later that number was around 400 on a daily basis.
NATO’s war losses in manpower and technology are denied. The then authorities in Belgrade claimed that more than a dozen aircraft were shot down, which was not confirmed. The Russian agency APN announced that NATO had lost over 400 soldiers and over 60 aircraft, while U.S. President Bill Clinton stated in a speech on June 10, 1999 that NATO had suffered “no casualties”. Aircraft F-117, F-16, unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles, aircraft F 117, the so-called “invisible” until then symbol of the superiority of American technology, ended up in a field of the Srem village Budjanovci.
There is almost no city in Serbia that was not targeted during the 11 weeks of aggression. NATO carried out 2,300 strikes and dropped 22,000 tons of missiles, including 37,000 banned cluster bombs and those filled with enriched uranium. Apart from attacks from ships in the Adriatic, as well as from four air bases in Italy, operations were carried out from bases in the countries of Western Europe and the USA.
Infrastructure, economic facilities, schools, health institutions, media outlets, cultural monuments, churches and monasteries were destroyed, totaling about 50 percent of Serbia’s production capacity. Various data were presented about the material damage caused during the NATO aggression. The then authorities in Belgrade estimated it at approximately one hundred billion dollars, the group of G17 economists estimated the damage at 29.6 billion US dollars.
In the bombing, 25,000 residential buildings were destroyed and damaged, 470 kilometers of roads and 595 kilometers of railways were disabled. 14 airports, 19 hospitals, 20 health centers, 18 kindergartens, 69 schools, 176 cultural monuments and 44 bridges were damaged, while 38 were destroyed.
A third of the country’s electricity capacity was destroyed, two refineries in Pancevo and Novi Sad were bombed, and NATO forces used graphite bombs for the first time to disable the electricity system. The overall consequences for the health of the population and the ecological consequences are immeasurable.
The Chinese embassy in Belgrade was destroyed on May 7, 1999. The RTS building in Belgrade was destroyed on April 23. 16 people died and the same number were wounded. The Novi Sad Television building was hit on May 3, 1999, on the International Day of Media Freedom.
The aggression was stopped with the signing of the Military-Technical Agreement in Kumanovo on June 9, 1999, and the withdrawal of FRY forces from Kosovo and Metohija began three days later. The agreement determined the withdrawal of the military security forces of the FRY from Kosovo and Metohija, and the establishment of UNMIK, a United Nations mission.
On June 10, 1999, the Secretary General of NATO issued an order to stop the bombing. The last projectiles fell in the area of the village of Kololeč, not far from Kosovska Kamenica, at 1:30 p.m., and on the barracks in Uroševac around 7:35 p.m. It was the 79th day of the NATO aggression against Serbia, that is, the FRY.
The UN Security Council then adopted Resolution 1244. 37,200 soldiers from 36 countries were deployed and sent to the province as part of the KFOR mission.
Set Aside Grievances Over Bombings, U.S. Asks Serbs
Another media report said:
In a carefully worded statement to the public on Friday that appeared sarcastic, U.S. ambassador in Belgrade Christopher Hill commented on the 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia by calling on the Serbs to build a “better future” together with Washington.
“I offer my personal condolences to the families of those who lost lives during the wars of the 1990s, including as a result of the NATO air campaign,” Hill said in a series of tweets.
The tone of sarcasm was heard as he added: “I know that the Serbian people will never forget that terrible time, nor should they. The Serbian people will never set aside their grief, but I believe they are strong enough to set aside their grievances.”
The U.S. has an “unwavering” commitment to diplomacy and “partnership” with Serbia, Hill claimed. “Together, we can build the better future the Serbian people deserve and want for future generations.”
His comments came on the anniversary of ‘Operation Allied Force’, the air war launched by the U.S.-led bloc on behalf of ethnic Albanian insurgents in Kosovo. Against the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 that ended the war, the U.S.-backed Kosovo provisional government declared independence in 2008.
As the immediate pretext for the bombing, NATO had cited Belgrade’s rejection of the ultimatum presented by then-US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at Rambouillet, including a deployment of NATO troops in Kosovo and independence of the breakaway province within three years. Annex B of the proposal also demanded unrestricted access of NATO forces to all of Yugoslavia – present-day Serbia and Montenegro – which the government in Belgrade could not accept.
Hill was present in Rambouillet, and in what seemed to be a nod to that episode, he claimed in his statement that he had learned during his long career that “sometimes diplomacy fails. When it does, the results can be tragic.”
According to official casualty figures by the Serbian government, the 1999 war resulted in the deaths of 1,031 soldiers and police officers, as well as 2,500 civilians – including 89 children. On Friday, Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko laid a wreath at the children’s memorial in Belgrade.